man's world is crying in pain
Starsky tossed violently in his sleep, twisting in the sheets, fighting phantoms. With a shout, he woke up wide-eyed, his heart racing. Where am I? What's goin' down?
Then he remembered what his mind would let him remember. We're at Hutch's. In his brass bed. I was dreaming. What nightmare could be worse than what he'd gone through today?
Hutch must be sleeping pretty sound to not hear me yellin'. Haven't done that since 'Nam. He settled back against the mattress carefully, not wanting to wake his partner. They'd had enough trouble just deciding where they would sleep—something that had been a foregone conclusion less than twenty-four hours ago.
I should'a slept on the couch. It's not fair to him for me to be so close. 'Specially with the drug still makin' him feel that way 'bout me. But when I mentioned it, he went all dead on me.
They hadn't touched since they got in this apartment. In fact, they barely spoke. At least I got some food into him before bed. Maybe tomorrow the drug would have worked its way out of Hutch's system and he'd be his old self again. Starsky squeezed his eyes shut. Would either of them ever be their old selves again?
I gotta get over this, gotta stop punishing Hutch for what I did—what I made him feel. We gotta both get over it. Or Gunther wins.
He touched his scars, then turned on his side. He needed to watch his partner sleep, see peace on his face. But it was so dark—!
His heart rate picked up. "Hutch?" There was no response. Hesitantly, he reached out to touch him, no longer concerned with how Hutch might interpret the move.
The other half of the bed was empty.
"Shit!" Starsky yelled, grabbing for the lamp switch and nearly knocking the damned thing over. Light flooded the room too quickly, burning his eyes, but he forced them to adjust as he clambered from the tangled sheets. He palmed Hutch's side. Cold. Long gone.
To connect? Starsky thought with paralyzing fear. And I drove him to it, with my all macho bullshit. What has he got now but that need? I sure let him know he doesn't have me.
Clad in dark blue pajama bottoms and nothing else, Starsky bolted from the bedroom, then halted and dashed for the bathroom. Maybe he was in the john—? No. Empty.
He skidded into the kitchen, looked around. "Hutch?" No coffee on the stove. No Hutch on the couch. No Hutch fussing with his plants. An entire apartment with no Hutch.
"Fuck!" Starsky spat, furious with himself, with his partner, with the bartender who had spiked their drinks, with Gunther, with the whole screwed-up world. He slammed out the door without stopping for shoes or shirt or jacket and flung himself down the steps, halting only when he saw both vehicles—Hutch's silly, midget car, Belle, and Starsky's fiery Torino—parked nose-to-tail right where they'd left them.
The cars have a better partnership than we've got right now, he thought bitterly. He wondered if they engaged in partner-like badinage, or if they got cozy with each other late at night when no one was looking. Huggy was right. He was gonna go crazy.
Could he make a connection on foot? Starsky wondered, gazing up and down the street. It was nearly five a.m. Not a good time to find drugs. But Hutch was a cop who worked the streets, and this was his neighborhood. He'd know where the all-night action was. And I slept through it. Good work, Starsky!
He stood there in terrible indecision—go right, go left, go across the street—without thinking that he wasn't dressed to go anywhere. Then something said, Look up. He stared at the night sky—and saw a pale hand suspended over the facade that framed the roof. Hutch was up there, leaning over the edge. Contemplating—?
Starsky ran back up the stairs to the apartment, stopped inside for a minute to find something he needed, then headed silently toward the roof.
Hutch was in the same spot when Starsky arrived. Leaning on his elbows against the lip of the facade at its low point, he stared out over the city. He wore nothing but pale cream pajama bottoms and beach flip-flops. The street lights outlined his body in the dark, making a halo of his hair and accenting his trim, fit form.
Starsky was so relieved to see him all in one piece, he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. But he couldn't judge what kind of shape Hutch was in. He might've connected already and came up here to enjoy the high in private. He could be depressed and thinking about a jump. Starsky would have to handle this carefully.
He moved across the roof, letting Hutch hear him. He didn't want to startle him while he stood so close to the edge. Hutch turned his head in Starsky's direction. As he drew near, Starsky saw a bottle of wine perched on the facade.
Resting his own elbows three feet from Hutch, he said, "Trouble sleeping?"
"Slept enough," Hutch replied.
He's wasted, Starsky thought anxiously, trying not to look down. "Wanna share?" he asked, indicating the bottle.
Hutch upended it, showing him it was dry. Starsky saw another on its side by Hutch's feet.
"Does it help?" Starsky asked. Hutch would know he was talking about the drug craving.
"Actually, this time, yeah," Hutch told him. "I was thinking about making some calls. You were dead to the world. I didn't trust myself to be near a phone. So I came up here with some friends and a corkscrew. It helped some. It's bound to help you, too, buddy."
Starsky could really hear the alcohol in his voice now. "Help me? How's that?"
Hutch grinned, his smile lopsided. "I can't get it up when I'm drunk. You know that."
"I'm not worried about that," Starsky said gently. "You've finished the wine; you'll be able to sleep now. Come back to bed with me."
The look Hutch gave him could've melted steel. "That's all I can think about, Starsk. Going to bed with you. Being loved by you." He turned away. "Sorry. Promised myself I wouldn't do that. I know it sickens you."
Starsky edged closer. "The thought of lovin' you doesn't sicken me," he insisted, struggling to keep the anger out of his voice. "I was just as fucked up on that drug as you were—you just handled it better. Lotsa drugs make me upchuck, and you of all people know that. After all the crap they pumped into me after the shooting, you cleaned up behind me more than the nurses did. You know my stomach can't take narcotics, pain killers, or any of that shit."
"Doesn't seem to be too fond of semen, either," Hutch muttered drolly.
Starsky's stomach rolled. "That's a low blow." This wasn't working, he realized, as Hutch leaned over and looked at the drop.
"Did you come up here to stop me from jumping," Hutch asked, "or from shooting up?"
"Neither," Starsky lied, then berated himself for it. "Both. Either." He closed his eyes, started over. "I woke up with the screamin' terrors. And—you weren't there."
Finally, something he'd said had touched Hutch through his own pain. He turned, his expression worried. "Nightmare? The shooting?"
Starsky shook his head. "No. Somethin' weird. It was—my dad. He was trying to reach me. Tryin' to—I don't know—pull me into heaven to be with him. Trying to talk me into dying. I was standing on this threshold, all worried and feelin' strange, and Dad was trying to lure me onto the other side. And I turned 'round to look for you to see if I should cross over—an' you weren't there. I knew you were in trouble. Woke up in a panic, yellin'." Even in the street light, Starsky could see Hutch's pallid color. "What?"
"Last night—you said I chased you into death, that I wouldn't let you go. I got the feeling it was a big factor in your sudden—interest in me. You remembered that same scene from your cardiac arrest. Your dad ready to lead you to the light. You were ready to die. You were hurting so bad you just wanted to rest. But when you turned around, you could see me—"
The memory hit him like a jolt and he gasped. "Coming after me, runnin' down a long, dark hallway, looking so scared! I saw you and turned away from my dad. Dobey told me. And Huggy. How you came flyin' into the hospital. How my heart didn't start beating 'til you came bustin' through the doors. I remember!"
Hutch moved closer to him and away from the edge of the roof. "What else?" he whispered, lifting a hand as if he couldn't resist his need to touch. "What else do you remember?"
Other than the dream image with an overlay of Hutch now imprinted on it, there was nothing else. No memory of loving—of desire for this man he cared for so much. None of that. He sighed. Hutch could see it in his face.
"Gimme time," Starsky begged. "I'm tryin'! It's just so—so damned alien to me!"
Hutch laughed bitterly. "Last night I told you since I chased you into death, now all I had to do was chase you into life."
Starsky took Hutch's arms, pulled him around to face him, only partly to get him away from the roof. "Tell me all of it. You said the film was edited, fill in all the missin' stuff."
Hutch shook his head. "Christ, Starsk, have a heart! Don't make me relive it again."
"You gotta. For me. Don't you think I want to remember lovin' you that much? Caring for you? I hate thinking I did it just to use you. Help me! If—if you tell me the other stuff—what we said to each other—maybe it'll come back, like this dream. And then—"
"And then, what? You'll remember what it feels like to want me? You'll fall in love with me again, not just as your buddy, but as your mate? Starsky, this is crazy! You don't feel that way about me, you never did. It was the drug making you horny, nothing more. You would've felt that way about anyone you were with."
Only his concern for Hutch's nearness to the roof's edge kept Starsky from stepping away from him. "Boy, do you have a high opinion of me! How is it your reactions were so heartfelt and sincere, while mine were just cock-fever?"
Hutch shrugged. "I guess it opened up something inside me I didn't know was there. Leftover effect of the shooting, maybe. I'm not sure I ever accepted the fact that you lived. It was too big a gift. I couldn't examine all the different things I felt for you after that."
Starsky nodded. Hutch's devotion to helping him recover, his patience, his lack of interest in women. His dogged pursuit of Gunther's empire. Avenging his love. All of it. And I encouraged him every step of the way.
Starsky thought about the dozens of women he'd fucked before the shooting—some of whom he didn't even like. He loved this man. Couldn't he give him what he so easily gave those women? Will my stomach let me?
"Come to bed with me," Starsky whispered. "Hold me. Be with me. Help me deal with this. I don't know how to stop hurtin' you."
Hutch started to laugh and swayed a little in his drunkenness. Starsky clutched his wrist. "Now you want me to go to bed with you? After two bottles of wine? Starsky, your timing is the worst. Or is that why you want me there now? 'Cause I'm nice and safe."
"Hutch," Starsky said, gritting his teeth, tired of the emotional seesaw, "there ain't nothin' safe about you." He'd had enough. He slapped the handcuffs he'd taken from the apartment on Hutch's left wrist and, before he could react, slapped the other end on his own right wrist.
Hutch stared dully at their joined wrists.
"I'm tired of fightin' with you," Starsky growled. "The sun's almost up, and I'm dead on my feet. And you're so fucked up I can't trust you to stay with me, even when I ask. How am I supposed to make it without you, huh? If something happened to you tonight—if you'd slipped and toppled over the edge, if you'd connected and O.D.'ed—how the hell was I supposed to live with that? I'm hangin' on by my fingertips, dammit, and I need you. Maybe that ain't the kinda love you want from me, but it's all I got right now. You gotta gimme time to get my head together about this. And I can't do that without sleep. So, come on. We're goin' to bed. Now." He marched toward the staircase, dragging his drunken friend behind him.
All the way down the stairs Hutch chuckled, completely out of it. By the time Starsky towed him into the bedroom, closed the blinds against the rising sun, and deposited Hutch on his side of the bed, he was really laughing.
"We're gonna sleep in these?" Hutch asked, giggling, as he held their handcuffed wrists up.
"That's right," Starsky said brusquely, as he climbed into bed and tried to get settled. "And if you don't straighten out by tomorrow, you may find yourself cuffed to the bed for the day."
"Oh, Starsky," Hutch said playfully around his laughter, "I love it when you're masterful!" Then he dissolved into gales of laughter.
Well, I wanted to make him smile, Starsky thought wearily. He turned onto his side, yanking Hutch's arm over him, then slid backward, forcing Hutch to spoon against him.
"You're awfully brave," Hutch teased.
"You're the one who said you couldn't get it up," Starsky reminded him, manhandling his pillow. "I think I can trust my partner enough to know he's not gonna fuck me in my sleep."
Hutch sighed, then sobered. "We never got that far last night, even though you wanted to. I'm damned glad we didn't. I don't think you could've lived with that if we had."
Starsky closed his eyes, knowing Hutch was right. He tried to reconcile himself with the words, you wanted to. "Hutch. We still love each other. We can still be there for each other. We might define that love differently, but it's still love. It's us against the whole world, now. We gotta hang on to our love." Starsky pulled Hutch tighter against him, and Hutch cuddled against his back, like the brother he'd always been. His arms snaked around Starsky and Hutch hugged him. Damn, I've missed that, Starsky thought.
"You're right, Starsk. I'll be okay." Hutch sounded like himself again.
"I know you will," Starsky said. In spite of the cold metal on his wrist, and the odd presence of the man pressed against his back, he wearily slid into sleep.
Three hours later, Hutch woke up with a pounding hangover and found he couldn't go to the john without waking Starsky. He stared at their handcuffed wrists and couldn't decide if he wanted to kiss the crazy man beside him or break his neck. Remembering that his own key ring was in the nightstand—something he'd been too drunk to remember last night—he managed to retrieve it and uncuff his wrist. To teach his sleeping partner a lesson, he quietly enclosed the spare cuff around the brass bedstead.
That really is erotic, Hutch thought, as he stared at Starsky. If I wasn't so hung over, it would even turn me on. Softly, he kissed Starsky's temple, then left the bed before he was tempted to take more liberties.
An Alka-Seltzer and some aspirin helped chase some of the fog away, and a shower helped, too. Hutch found a faded pair of denim cut-offs and a body-hugging tank top with bold horizontal stripes to wear with his flip-flops. Starsky slept on, oblivious, making Hutch smile. He could've set up connections with half of LA and his guardian would've slept through it.
That was when he realized the worst of it was over. Okay, he was over the drug craving, now to get over the craving for Starsky. Not as easy. Smiling wryly in spite of his sensitive head, he went to the kitchen to start coffee. While the pot brewed, he looked out on the sunny day. He reminded himself that he and Starsky were still together. Even through his drunkenness, he remembered his partner reminding him, It's us against the whole world now. No matter how weirded out Starsky was feeling, he'd stick by Hutch. It was not something most men could've taken for granted if their best buddies suddenly fell hotly in love with them. Hutch felt lucky. For the first time since this whole mess started, he felt like life might still have joy in it.
He was pouring himself fresh-brewed coffee when someone knocked on the door. He stiffened, reaching for his gun before remembering that he didn't have one anymore. His heart trip-hammered as he wondered if reporters had found them. Tentatively, he asked, "Who's there?"
"It's Peter Whitelaw," a man's voice answered. "You spoke to me once about John Blaine. Now, I'd like to speak to you."
Peter Whitelaw? Hutch opened the door. "How'd you get my address?"
"The police aren't the only ones who can garner information, Detective Hutchinson," Whitelaw said civilly. "Can I come in?"
Hutch hesitated, then said, "Sure." He ushered the tall, sandy-haired man into his kitchen. Whitelaw was younger than Hutch, and quite good-looking. It was still hard to think that Whitelaw had once been Johnny's lover, but it was just as difficult for Hutch to think of Detective "Big Bad" John Blaine as gay. Wryly, he wondered how many people today felt that same way about him.
He smiled politely at Whitelaw. "Coffee?"
"Love some. Black."
Hutch busied himself with pouring the brew.
Whitelaw didn't look like what Hutch thought of as stereotypically "gay"—then he realized it was probably time for him to review those labels now that one might be fitting him. Were you gay if only one man attracted you? He pulled his mind away from that track. Whitelaw looked like a lawyer or a professional—a serious, attractive young man in a crisp business suit with an expensive briefcase.
He placed the cup in front of Whitelaw and realized he was being appraised just as carefully—with one difference. It was subtle, but Hutch was aware that Whitelaw was also conscious of Hutch's attractiveness, not in the clinical way Hutch had, but more like the way a bold woman would. He felt his ears turning red, then slapped himself mentally. He was hardly in any position to criticize anyone else's desires.
"Congratulations on winning the election, Mr. Whitelaw," Hutch said pleasantly.
He'd run as an openly gay councilman for his district—a trendy part of town where gays congregated—and had won handily. Once elected, the word on Whitelaw was good. He was an honest politician and was serving his constituents well, both gay and straight. He favored underdogs—going out of his way to support senior citizens and the handicapped. Even Starsky had mentioned—without cynicism—Whitelaw's willingness to put himself on the line for the less advantaged in his district.
Imagine, Starsky had said, reading the paper, a politician who comes through on his campaign promises! He'd hafta be queer!
"However," Hutch continued, "Venice is out of your district. 'Fraid I can't vote for you."
Whitelaw smiled. "I'm not canvassing or fund raising, Detective. I've come to speak to you about something—more personal."
Hutch had to smile. At least, today, he could. "And what might that be?"
"Seen today's paper?" Whitelaw asked.
Hutch shook his head. "Starsky and I have given them up. Bad for our eyes. We saw just about all we'd ever want to yesterday."
Whitelaw unsnapped his briefcase, pulled out a morning edition and laid it on the table. The headline made Hutch's jaw clench. It read, "Gay Cops Suspended With Full Pay." The picture beside it showed them nude to the waist in bed, and lip-locked for all they were worth.
"That's a lie," Hutch said. He kept his voice low but couldn't hold in his anger. "We've been suspended without pay. We don't even have any idea when—or if—we'll be reinstated."
Whitelaw nodded and folded the paper over. "I know it's a lie. The whole thing is a lie."
Hutch started to argue, then stopped with his mouth open. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"I spoke with Captain Dobey yesterday. I called to appeal that you both be kept on active duty. With your record, your commendations, all the work you did on the Gunther case, the attempt to assassinate Starsky—you guys should've been kept on during the investigation. He said it was out of his hands. And confirmed you were suspended without pay. Even if I hadn't spoken with him, I'm well aware this is the normal course of events in this kind of case."
"If you could find that out so easily, then why—?" Hutch pointed to the lying newsprint.
"Sells papers," Whitelaw said. "This is the kind of bigoted coverage we always deal with. You've been branded with our label, so you're finding out for yourself."
Hutch stared. "We've been branded with your—? You don't think we're gay?"
Whitelaw glanced around as if framing his next statement. "Detective Hutchinson, no one in the gay community thinks you, or Detective Starsky, are gay."
Hutch could only ask, "Why not?"
"A lot of intangibles, and a lot of tangibles," Whitelaw told him. "You don't 'read' gay. You don't 'act' gay. And frankly, since a lot of us got to see your infamous film performance—you simply don't make love like gays. Even though someone went to a lot of trouble to portray this as a long-time relationship, you were both too inexperienced. You were clearly under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and—well, you just weren't—skilled enough."
Hutch had to stifle a burst of laughter. "You mean, as gays, we just don't cut it?"
"Essentially. Look, Detec—"
Hutch cut him off. "Please—call me Ken."
Whitelaw nodded. "Okay. I'm Peter. Look, Ken, this may come as a surprise to you, but at least thirty percent of all straight men have between one and five homosexual experiences in their lifetimes. It happens. Frequently under the influence. Sometimes stemming from strong feelings for a friend. Most of the time, it's a one-time thing; there's guilt, shame, and the men move on. In your case, it was orchestrated, enhanced by something, and set up to get a reaction which could be used to ruin you."
"Could you, uh, take out an ad in the LA Times and write that up for us?" Hutch said.
"I'd love to, but as a card-carrying 'queer,' I don't have much pull with public opinion."
"Oh, this is rich!" Hutch declared bitterly. "The straight world is ready to exile us into space, and the gay world won't have us, either!"
"Well," Whitelaw said, "I didn't say that."
Before he could respond, a sound erupted from the bedroom, evolving from a low growl to a roar, accompanied by a harshly rattled chain.
"Hutch! Hutch! HUUUUTCH!"< /span>
He blushed violently as he remembered, Starsky's handcuffed to the bed!
Before he could move, his partner bellowed, "GET THESE DAMNED HANDCUFFS OFFA ME! HUUUTCH!" The clanking chain grew more violent. Hutch thought he could hear the bed moving across the floor. "YOU BETTER BE OUT THERE, HUTCHINSON, OR YOUR ASS IS MINE!"
Whitelaw looked confused and alarmed.
"Easy, Starsk, easy!" Hutch called, dashing into the bedroom and leaving Whitelaw without a word of explanation.
"Very funny!" Starsky yelled as Hutch came into view. "Uncuff me from this bed! Now!"
Hutch scooted around the side of the bed, keys in hand. "Will you pipe down?" he hissed. Quickly, he unfastened the cuff attached to the bed. Starsky nearly levitated out of it, snatching the keys out of Hutch's hands as he did. Hutch backed out of the bedroom toward the kitchen while Starsky, furious, advanced on him.
"The hell I'll pipe down!" he jangled the cuff on his wrist in Hutch's face. "Think it's funny cuffin' me to the bed? I woke up wondering where you'd gone. Why you left me alone—?"
They'd finally moved far enough around the corner for Starsky to spot their visitor. He stopped in mid-tirade. He stood there, in his pajama bottoms, with a handcuff dangling from his wrist. "What—? Who—?"
"I've been trying to tell you," Hutch whispered sotto voce, "we have company."
Starsky must've just remembered who this was, Hutch realized, because his color darkened in a blush. He groaned and his blue eyes narrowed dangerously as he glowered at Hutch.
Oh, I'm gonna pay for this, Hutch thought.
"Mr. Whitelaw," Starsky grumbled, "if you'll excuse me, I guess I'll—change." He glared at Hutch again, then went back to the bedroom, fumbling with the cuffs as he went. Hutch could hear him mumbling all the way to the john.
"There's coffee out here, Starsk," Hutch called cheerily, only to hear the bathroom door slam. "He's not himself without coffee," he said to Whitelaw, and was relieved when he laughed.
"You guys have been partners a long time, haven't you?" Whitelaw asked, chuckling.
"Long time," Hutch confirmed. "Went through the Academy together."
"It shows. It's a good thing. Not many straight men could get through what you've been forced to endure and still remain friends. For that matter, I'm not sure a lot of gays could."
Hutch nodded, worriedly. He wondered if they would be able to, either.
The resounding slam of the bathroom door made Starsky's teeth ache as it ricocheted through Hutch's small bathroom.
He took a deep cleansing breath even as he keyed open the handcuff manacle from his right wrist. He took another breath, found his center, and hummed a long, satisfying Oooommmm.
He did it again as he tried to rein in his fury, his confusion, his— Closing his eyes, he touched his erection, trying to soothe what couldn't be soothed. What was happening to him?
Ever since 'Nam, he'd been plagued with dreams so real he often woke shaken, upset for half the day. But weirdly enough, he hadn't had any since the shooting. None while Hutch and he had been together over these last nine months of recuperation and investigation. None while they shared the same bed. Didn't take a psychiatrist to figure out that he felt safer with Hutch—so safe it even affected his dream patterns.
Then last night he'd received that sudden, vivid memory of his near-death experience— And then, when he went back to sleep—
He swallowed, searched for his center, tried his mantra and gave it up. He splashed his face with cold water. It didn't help. The vivid dreams had rattled him to his core. They still sat behind his eyes, tormenting him with their lurid images.
He saw himself in black leather pants, biker's pants, tapered to the ankle, with zippers for his boots, zippers on his pockets, and chrome studding on the seam line. He wore a black tee and a biker's black leather jacket—clothes he didn't own, wouldn't normally buy.
Hutch was in leather, too, but in white. His clothes were more stylish, tight-fitting, his leather pants belled at the bottom and as soft as kidskin. His leather jacket was a soft, pale beige, with fringe and small silver beads for trim. Under it, Hutch wore a dove-gray tee. He looked radiant in the clothes, as bright as Starsky was dark. The clothes hugged their bodies, accenting their masculinity obscenely. Starsky didn't know where they were, couldn't recognize anything, but it didn't matter.
All he could do was watch Hutch.
Hutch said nothing to him, just smiled, his sapphire-clear eyes filled with love. Hutch dropped to his knees, staring up at his partner as if mesmerized, as if Starsky held the answers to everything. Then, slowly, Hutch started unlacing the leather thongs on Starsky's fly.
He shook his head, splashed more water on his face, desperate to dispel the vision that had caused him to wake up hard, hot, confused, and scared shitless. In his dream, Hutch had given him the most incredible blow-job he'd ever had, and Starsky had not only let him, he'd encouraged him, praising his performance, petting his face, watching his every move. His hunger for Hutch's mouth was unquenchable. He was seconds away from erupting when he'd woke up, gasping, sweating, his hips thrusting, vainly searching for that searing, wet haven—
Was it dream or memory? Had it felt like that when Hutch went down on him? Could it have felt that good? Starsky leaned his burning forehead against the cool tile of the bathroom. He could never remember any sex act feeling that intense, erotic . . . extraordinary—
Stop it! He could barely face it, but all the dream did was confirm his own worst fears. Under the influence of Gunther's drugs, he'd become the self-centered user he'd once been, and had taken Hutch for his own gratification. Now, he was reliving it in his dreams.
As a kid, he'd developed that hard-bitten, selfish personality as a defense mechanism. It kept him sane and safe through the hard New York years, through the death of his dad, the relocation to LA, through 'Nam, and all the other rough times he'd faced. He hadn't tempered that personae until . . . .
Until I hooked up with Hutch in the Academy. There was something so open about him, so vulnerable—I couldn't be that way with him. That was when I realized I didn't need to be that way anymore. At least, not with Hutch.
That rough exterior still came in handy on the street. Coating it with a teddy bear facade worked well with women. But convincing a semi-reluctant woman to go to bed with him wasn't the same as seducing his best friend. He hated himself for subjecting even a dream Hutch to such treatment, and was terrified to think that was how he might've actually used the real Hutch. And he hated himself even more for being aroused by the vision of it. More than that, he hated himself for making Hutch want him.
Now, with the two of them locked into their own company and isolated from the rest of the world, he worried about what would happen. They were like prisoners in their own little cell. And Starsky knew entirely too well what happened to prisoners. One would dominate. And one would submit. If he wasn't careful, his own selfish needs would get the better of him one night after too little sleep, or too much beer. Or one too many dreams like this last one.
He'd hurt Hutch enough. He had to get a grip on this.
Of course, making a scene in front of that—he stopped himself before he used an unkind term that struck too close to home—in front of Whitelaw didn't improve his mood.
What is that—politician doin' here anyway?
It always made Starsky nervous to see which buzzards showed up first over a fresh corpse.
And how come he seemed so friendly to Hutch? For that matter, how come Hutch seemed so friendly to him?
He'd never find out hiding in the bathroom.
Quickly, he urinated, brushed his teeth, then, locating his jeans, dropped his pj's and slid them on over his bare rump.
Hutch was too damned gullible sometimes. And with all his confused feelings, he might just assume Whitelaw's some kind of ally just because—just because—
He didn't want to finish the thought.
Just because they're both gay?
No! Whatever Hutch was going through was just an aberration. When this was over, they'd be knocking off the stewardesses like before.
It was a hollow boast. His stomach complained, feeling like a snake too big to fit was housed there. Would he ever get over this bizarre bout of squeamishness?
Forcing himself to put on a more cheerful demeanor, he grinned toothily in the mirror for practice. Be friendly. Hmmmm. Looked like a snarl. Well, it was the best he could do.
He emerged from the bathroom to find Whitelaw and Hutch laughing, sharing coffee. Cozy, Starsky thought irritably.
"Good mornin'," he mumbled, "I think."
Without a word, Hutch handed him a cup of fresh coffee, which he took gratefully with a nod. The rich aroma and flavor tempered some of his crabbiness. He killed half the mug in three swallows. Hutch's luminous blue eyes bore into him, as Whitelaw watched the two of them interact. Waiting for—what? A good morning kiss? A little marital exchange?
Starsky's mouth engaged before his brain joined in. "Good coffee, sweetheart," he said to Hutch with exaggerated cheerfulness. Then to Whitelaw, "No one makes coffee like my Hutch. Picks the beans himself." Batting his lashes at Hutch, "Is it my turn to make breakfast, honey?"
Amazingly, Hutch just smiled tolerantly. "Can the sarcasm. Peter knows we're not gay."
That took Starsky aback, but only for a second. He watched Whitelaw glance surreptitiously at Hutch, and wasn't sure he was ready to believe that. Of course, there was always wishful thinking on Whitelaw's part.
"Oh, Peter does, does he?" Starsky grumbled suspiciously, pronouncing the man's name to make it sound like the street term for a sexual organ. "What gave us away?"
"Poor technique," Hutch commented drolly.
"What?" Starsky sputtered, outraged, then blushed at what he was outraged about.
Hutch and Whitelaw both laughed at his confusion. "Peter," Hutch asked, "more coffee?"
"Thanks. Your partner's right. It's good."
Starsky could feel his blood pressure rising, but he didn't want to think about why. He'd never been in a situation like this and didn't know the rules, didn't know how he was supposed to feel, how to react. But every time Whitelaw smiled at Hutch, Starsky wanted to go over and feed the handsome man his teeth.
"Looks like you two have been out here long enough to swap Christmas cards," Starsky said.
"Peter brought us a present," Hutch said, flipping open the newspaper on the table.
Starsky glared at the headline, his rage climbing. It was irrational to direct his anger at Whitelaw, but he'd brought the damned thing, and he was confused enough by Hutch to not want to direct anything at him. "Who wrote this?" Starsky asked in a low tone.
"Staff written," Whitelaw said. "I already complained to the editor." He said the next to Hutch. "They'll print a correction tomorrow."
"On page thirty," Starsky scowled, "in tiny print."
"You're familiar with the problem," Whitelaw said.
"Enough," Starsky agreed. He decided to take the direct approach. "Why'd you bring this here? Think we didn't have enough on our plate?" His behavior was defensive, but he didn't care. If Whitelaw didn't stop eyeing Hutch like a slab of beef, he would get a lot more aggressive.
Why should you care? he asked himself. Hutch is a grown man. He can make his own decisions about who he's attracted to. Or are you afraid that one roll in the hay's turned him into a screaming—
Sensing Starsky's confusion, Hutch said, "Easy, Starsk. He's not the enemy."
"You know that?" Starsky fired back, barely holding his fury in check. He was stung by Hutch defending this guy. "We don't know who the enemy is, only that we have one. Last time we saw Mr. Whitelaw here—"
"Peter," the councilman said pointedly.
"The last time we saw Peter," Starsky corrected, "I said things to him that maybe he didn't appreciate."
Hutch tensed. "Starsky. You're out of line."
He stared at his partner. I'm out of line?
"It's okay, Ken," Whitelaw said calmly. "He's right to be suspicious."
As he turned, Starsky suddenly saw the politician who was elected in spite of the odds against him. "Detective, when you spoke to me in my campaign office after John's death and said that you didn't understand why my sexual orientation had to be an issue in my campaign, I didn't answer you. I didn't answer because I knew that as a heterosexual male, it would be damned near impossible to make you understand my point of view. You'd have to walk in my shoes to do that."
Whitelaw sighed as if he were tired. "Well, now, because of the way you've been framed, you're not only in my shoes, but you're gonna wear the leather out before this is over. And I'm sorry for you. It's not fun and it's not pretty. And it's not fair. Neither of you deserve it."
Starsky fidgeted as his anger drained away. He recalled that Whitelaw had been a teacher once—a good teacher from what he and Hutch had learned—but he'd been dismissed when someone accused him of being a homosexual.
He shrugged, and looked at his coffee. "Nice speech. That still don't tell me why you're here."
Whitelaw paused. Finally, he asked Starsky, "You've been offered jobs at the Green Parrot. Are you going to take them?"
Starsky almost blurted Are you crazy? before catching the hesitancy in Hutch's body. He clamped his mouth shut.
"You think we should?" Hutch asked.
"I think you should consider it," Whitelaw replied.
"Why's that?" Starsky asked. "And what's your interest in it?"
"Couple of things," Whitelaw said. "In a city filled with some hard-bitten cops, you're known for your fairness. You were good friends with John Blaine—and you still cared about him even after you found out the truth. He thought the world of both of you. You were fair to me and the people at the Green Parrot—even to Nick Hunter, a penny-ante hustler."
They exchanged a glance as Hutch poured more coffee into Starsky's cup. Hutch was making an effort to connect with Starsky, and Starsky was embarrassed that Hutch felt he had to.
"You're both good detectives," Whitelaw continued, "and I'm sure you'll pursue whatever avenues you can to bring down the parties that have tried to ruin you. You may even succeed. However, realistically speaking, I can't see any way for you to turn public opinion around on this. So, unless you want to be permanently dismissed from the police force for—oh, take your pick, moral depravity, sodomy, violation of public standards—you may have to join forces with people you'd never imagined as your allies."
"'Join forces,'" Starsky said. "You make it sound like we're joinin' an army—goin' to war."
Whitelaw nodded. "It's not the worst analogy. We've been pressuring the mayor's office for years to put openly gay people on the force. They've been resistant. Well—according to public opinion, there are now two gay cops—heroes to this city—already on the payroll. We want them back in their jobs because they're good cops and they deserve to be there."
Hutch spoke up. "Wait a minute. You want us to be your representatives? You want us to be your gay cops? Publicly? Hold it!"
Whitelaw held up his hands. "You two are who you are. But the rest of the world—"
"Has us pegged as queers," Starsky said, the picture growing clear, "just as Gunther planned it. So, now we are what they say we are, no matter what the truth is. That's the way the world works." He turned to his partner. "It wouldn't matter if we moved to opposite ends of the city, or opposite ends of the earth, or if we never spoke to each other again. With what they've done to us, we might as well buy tee-shirts with big letter 'Qs' on 'em. We're gay now. He's right. And the only way we'll get our jobs back is if we just accept that and work with it."
Hutch was staring at him, amazed.
"Hey, it ain't our fault, it ain't our doin'," Starsky said, fatalistically. "But it is what is."
"And you're ready to handle that label?" Hutch asked pointedly, his eyes widening. "You're ready to handle the heat from it?"
"No, I'm probably not ready. I'll probably be callin' guys out left and right. But tell me how to change it, Hutch? Wha'd'ya think—maybe nailin' the mayor's secretary on his desk? Takin' out ads that say 'we didn't really mean it, we were just foolin' around'? We knew we were underwater soon as we saw that film in Dobey's office. But I'm not ready to lay down and die over it." He turned, captured Hutch's complete attention. "We didn't come all this way to give up over somethin' like this. We didn't do all that work to get me healthy, then do all that hard-ass investigating—we didn't bring Gunther's empire down so he could get the last laugh in the end."
Hutch stood up straighter. "No, we didn't. But, Starsk, if we step down this path, we can never go back."
"It's too late for that already," Starsky said dismally. "I knew it yesterday." Starsky looked at Whitelaw. "I don't know that I'm—man enough to wear your label, specially when I feel like it's a lie. But that doesn't mean I'm not wearin' it. It's been put on me by a whole city full of people whose minds I can't control, 'specially with what they're thinkin' 'bout me and Hutch. So, I'll deal with it and what's gonna come down." He turned back to Hutch. "I can do that—long as you'll stand by me."
Hutch gave him that big, blue-eyed look, all his love and vulnerability placed right in his lap, just like always.
Even after what I did with it, Starsky thought.
"Me and thee, partner," Hutch said with a casual shrug and the kind of disarming smile that destroyed women regularly, "same as always."
Starsky wanted to weep when his friend said that. Me and thee, same as always? No, not hardly, babe. But that ain't your fault. And I'm not gonna let you suffer because of me.
"So," Starsky faced Whitelaw, realizing with some surprise that he and Hutch were shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, facing Whitelaw, being united, being partners. His heart swelled. "What's your plan? I know you got one."
"Part of it involves working at the Green Parrot," Whitelaw explained.
"Why?" Starsky asked bluntly, uncomfortable and not attempting to hide it.
"I'm not gonna kid you," Peter said. "This is going to take a while. You're going to need income, and I can't afford to support you out of the war chest. But the main reason is that the Green Parrot is a good place to connect with our network. A lot of us meet there. It would be convenient to pass information to you there."
"What kind of information?" Hutch asked.
"We have a lot of people working with us," Whitelaw told them. "Investigators, lawyers, private eyes, people in the mayor's office, other cops—we're well connected."
"All these people are gay?" Starsky asked. He wanted to know who these allies would be.
"Most of them," Whitelaw admitted. "Some are sympathetic straights—sisters, brothers, parents, friends of gay people. We intend to investigate how you were brought to this. We don't expect the police to uncover much, since the two cops best qualified to investigate the situation have been removed from the force."
"It's not like we can't do any of it," Starsky protested.
"No, but you no longer have the resources of the police department to help you," Whitelaw reminded them. "Some of our people can help even that score with access to computer data banks, and so forth. You'll need their help. And you'll need our civil rights lawyer. You've probably heard of her—Kelly Rose Callahan."
Hutch whistled and Starsky's eyes widened. She'd won a huge settlement from the city regarding an arrest and beating of a civil rights protester a few years back. That had happened in another precinct, but Dobey had raised hell about it with his cops, making sure nothing like that would ever happen at Parker.
"K. R. Callahan is gay?" Starsky asked, remembering the red-haired, feminine woman—with the steel trap mind and the no-nonsense attitude. He'd never seen a five foot, three inch woman be so intimidating.
"No," Whitelaw said. "Her brother is. But she's a legal visionary. She says in the next twenty years gay issues will be at the forefront of civil rights work, and she likes to be ahead of the curve. She says what's happened to you violates privacy laws and other civil rights."
"Those issues can take years to resolve," Hutch said dismally.
"True," Whitelaw agreed, "but with her track record, the city is already scared to death. She thinks she can brow-beat them into letting you back on active status while the rest of it is being resolved. She'd like to meet you for lunch tomorrow. She wants to move on this before the city sets up hearings or makes decisions."
They looked at one another again. Hutch swallowed. "You sure about this?"
Starsky shrugged. "It's that, or quit, and things never do work out for us when we quit."
Hutch nodded. "Okay. Then we're in it," he said to Whitelaw. "You said there were cops on the force who—"
"We're everywhere, Ken. Some surveys are saying that one in every ten persons is gay. So, yes, there are gay cops. Johnny wasn't alone."
"How are they gonna feel about this?" Hutch wondered. "I mean, if things work out and we get our jobs back, and we become the first openly gay cops on the force. How are they gonna feel about these two straight guys taking their thunder while they're still in the closet?"
Whitelaw shook his head. "You won't be taking their thunder, Ken. You'll be taking their heat. It's going to be hard to be the first gay cops in LA. It'll be easier for the next ones, because of the sacrifices you guys will be forced to make. Trust me on this. They'll be grateful."
Starsky nodded. There wasn't one step of this that was going to be easy. Not ever. If they could only hang on to each other through it—
Whitelaw stood. "I'll call you tomorrow to confirm that meeting. Expect to hear from Sugar about the job—when you begin and so on. I'll be seeing you at the Parrot, too." He touched his briefcase, then unsnapped the clasps. "I hesitate bringing this up . . . ."
Starsky realized both of them visibly tensed.
"I assume you saw your film in your captain's office," Whitelaw said, not looking at either of them. "I thought—now don't take this the wrong way—you might want a copy of your own. I mean, you probably didn't get a chance to look at it as evidence. I was afraid you might regret that at some point—" He stopped, as if realizing he was blathering. He pulled a plastic case out of his briefcase and dropped it on the table. "It's a Betamax video tape. It was in my office when I got there at five a.m. yesterday. You can have it. Examine it if you think it'll help. Burn it if you'd rather."
Starsky forced himself to touch the thing, turn it over in his hands. He said the word in his mind. Evidence. You're a cop, and this is nothing but evidence.
"You're right," Starsky said, his voice raspy. "We, uh, we never really looked at it as cops would. We were too surprised— Thanks for thinking of that. We're not bein' as clear-headed as we need to be about this."
Hutch was looking out the kitchen window.
Whitelaw closed his briefcase and walked to the door. "Thanks for the coffee, Ken. And, uh, be nice to each other. You'll need to stick together more than ever. No more handcuffs, huh?" Smiling, he let himself out.
Starsky felt himself blush to his roots, and he remembered to glower at Hutch again.
But Hutch had a funny expression on his face as he watched Whitelaw's retreating form. "Pretty nice guy. Interesting way to start the day." He carefully kept his eyes away from the table. Away from the video cassette.
"How's zat?" Starsky shot back, too bluntly. "With a little political intrigue, or maybe a tall, cool blond in the kitchen?"
Hutch's spine straightened as if he'd been shot. "Now, there's a statement that could be easily twisted—"
"Yeah?" Starsky growled, trying vainly to curb his temper again.
Chilly blue eyes appraised him, until Hutch finally said, "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were jealous."
Starsky froze. He started to blurt a protest then forced his mouth to be still. This was no time to dissemble. "He looked at you like you were the main course. He wanted you. Couldn't you feel it?"
Hutch shrugged. "Of course I could. But why should that bother you?"
Good question. Honesty was so difficult. But necessary. "'Cause, maybe I'm worried, because of what's happened— Maybe I'm afraid—you might want him back." And I can't handle that. You with some other guy. Ever. You're mine. The thought was a wet slap in the face. What was he thinking? He ground his teeth.
Hutch watched him as though he could read his mind, hear the wheels turning. "Starsky," Hutch said, his voice low, soft.
Seductive, Starsky thought.
"I don't want him. I'm not gonna want him or any other guy. You can relax about that. Okay?"
Starsky had to shut his eyes, his relief palpable. "Hutch, I'm sorry." Sorry I did this to you. Sorry I keep makin' it worse. Sorry you're stuck here with me in this.
Arms slid around him, familiar arms, comforting arms, and he responded like a drowning man, grabbing hold, hugging, pulling the tall, warm body close.
"It wasn't your fault," Hutch insisted. "Stop apologizing. If I made you feel like it was your fault, I'm sorry. This was done to us. We can't blame each other, or ourselves. We just gotta find our way through it. Together."
For a second, Starsky thought he felt the gentle brush of Hutch's lips against his forehead. That simple gesture, so full of love and longing, nearly broke his heart. They pulled out of the embrace with an awkwardness they'd never had.
"Actually," Hutch said, his voice low and husky, "it's my turn to make breakfast. How does oatmeal, wheat toast, orange juice and fresh peaches sound?"
"Not as good as bacon and eggs," Starsky said, giving his standard speech, "but I'll take 'em." As casually as he could manage, he picked up the cassette and set it on a book rack where it fit tidily. "And more coffee. I have a feelin' we need to be doing something today, but I can't figure out what. Guess that drug's still playin' havoc with my brain. Uh—how 'bout you?"
"Seem to be over the worst of it," Hutch said. "But I can tell you what it is you don't want to remember. It's been twenty-four hours, Starsk. We've got to face calling our families."
Starsky groaned, wishing Hutch hadn't reminded him. He had to talk to his mom. She'd be sitting there, staring at the phone, waiting. He wondered what his kid brother, Nicky, would have to say. Starsky felt like he was falling down a long dark well.
was a willow last night in a dream